The morning was muggy and damp, steam rising from the asphalt from the previous night’s rain. Kit was driving around in her car, in between dropping off some paperwork at the lawyer’s office and going to an obscure Chinese pharmacy to see if she could find some herb whose name Holzhausen had written out in his neat Copperplate script. Sometimes, being the Dayrunner for the Vampire Guild Leader involved interesting assignments, such as murder investigations, but more often she had to run a lot of errands, doing all those things that could only be done during banker’s hours by someone who wouldn’t die a painful death when exposed to sunlight.
The phone rang, and Kit clicked the button on her steering wheel to answer it. “What’s up, Jackie?”
“Guess who has a boyfriend?”
“Good for you!” Kit said, smiling at how happy Jackie sounded. “Who’s the lucky guy? Anyone I know?”
“What do you mean? You got a thing against faeries? And why didn’t you tell me he was a faerie?”
“Wasn’t my secret to tell.” Kit pulled out a packet of cigarettes she’d bought earlier that day. She put one to her lips and lit it. She hadn’t smoked in…how long had it been? Nine months? Ten? She thought she’d quit for good, but this craving wouldn’t go away.
“Didn’t you think I ought to know?”
“He’s passing for human.” Kit double parked the car and tucked the sheaf of envelopes under her arm. She slipped the cigarettes into her pocket so she’d have a hand free. She had to drawl around the cigarette. “Just cause I don’t like the guy doesn’t mean I have to ruin his life.”
“It didn’t ruin anything. I think it’s totally cool. And why don’t you like him?”
Kit had to hold the phone to her ear so she could dump the envelopes into the mailbox. She narrowly avoided ashing all over them, and got some on her clothes. “I don’t trust him.”
“James says you’re racist. He says you don’t like faeries.”
“I’m not racist. I have nothing against faeries.” She took the cigarette out of her mouth and stubbed it out on the asphalt. Whatever it was she was craving, it wasn’t nicotine.
“You don’t like the kind Vax is.”
“That’s not true,” Kit lied. Her time in the Realm of the Faerie had been spent in the company of the Pilell, who were mortal enemies of the Vargel and Indel. They had nothing but contempt for “the Vargel and their slaves” as they called them, and Kit hadn’t many enough of the clanfaeries to convince her that all the negative stereotypes that the Pilell had for the clanfaeries weren’t true.
Well, Tali was okay, she supposed.
“And even if I were racist, that wouldn’t mean that Vax is trustworthy. He—”
“What?” Jackie asked. “He’s what?”
Kit wasn’t sure. She knew that there was something bad about Vax, but she couldn’t seem to remember why. “What does he do for a living?”
“He teaches ballroom dancing at the Glenn Activity center. He invited me to join him next week.”
“No, I mean, what does he do for a living?”
“Well…” Jackie’s voice was getting tighter. “I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter.”
“I think he’s involved in something criminal.”
“Do you have proof?”
“Well, not exactly,” Kit said. “But I’m pretty sure.”
“He likes me, Kit. Why do you have to ruin this? I haven’t had a decent boyfriend in…well, since I can’t remember when. And now there’s this hot guy who’s totally into me and you’re trying to ruin it before it starts.”
“I’m not trying to ruin anything, Jackie,” Kit said, walking down the street towards a coffee kiosk. Getting hot drinks at anywhere other than her brother’s felt disloyal, but this craving wasn’t going away. Maybe she needed caffeine. “I’m just saying keep your eyes open. Faeries can be serious bad news.”
“I thought you’d be happy for me.”
“I am happy for you,” Kit said, but Jackie had hung up. Kit sighed, and turned to throw her cigarette butt away.
“Hey, lady,” a teenage girl sat on the ground, with her back up against the brick wall of a clothing boutique. She had a plastic cup with coins rattling in it and a cardboard sign that read 2YOUNG2WORK on it. “Can I bum a cigarette?”
Kit gave the girl the rest of pack, and her lighter too.
“Thanks!” the girl said, and dug into the pack with the enthusiasm of a child with candy. She offered Kit one of them, but Kit was already regretting the one she’d had, and she wasn’t looking forward to the disappointed look in Fenwick’s eyes if he caught a whiff of it on her clothes and hair, so she smiled and shook her head.
The girl inhaled, closing her eyes and leaning back. Her expression was one of near-pleasure, that exquisite feeling when an itch is scratched or a constant pain suddenly vanishes. Kit envied the girl’s relief.
Kit bought herself an iced chai, and drank it on the way back to her car. Like the cigarette, it did nothing to satisfy this craving she had. At first she thought this this craving, this itch was rubbing off from Kaa’s molting, but it persisted even after his feathers grew in glossy black. It wasn’t from him courting, either, because Kaa was waiting to pursue a female until they moved into Fenwick’s house. No, not Fenwick’s house, as he kept insisting. Until they moved into their house. She wished Kaa were with her.
Maybe it was just spring fever, Kit thought, as a breeze picked up and ruffled her hair. The breeze was blowing the clouds away. She closed her eyes and turned to face the sun, enjoying the feel of it on her skin. Maybe she could just blow off work and go for a run in the greenbelt. Just an hour or so, and then she could finish her work afterwards.
No sooner had she thought that, but her phone rang.
“Morales,” she muttered, even before she looked at the phone to confirm that her guess was correct. She greeted him with a more neutral tone than she felt.
“Melbourne, did you find Mike Brown at his address?”
“No. It’s not a real address. It’s one of those mailbox rental places.”
“Did you go there and see for yourself?”
“I didn’t have to. I saw the satellite photo.” Which Morales could have easily discovered on his own, if he had bothered to check. Jesus, the guy was getting on her last nerve.
Morales grumbled. She half expected him to insist that she drive there and verify, personally, that Jim Brown’s elusive partner, Mike Brown, wasn’t living at Mailboxes & More. He was a doggedly stubborn investigator. Or at least, he was doggedly stubborn as long as he wasn’t the one doing the actual gruntwork.
“I have more addresses for you to check out.”
“What sort of addresses?” She tossed the remains of her iced chai in a trash can as she reached her car. The caffeine and sugar were doing nothing to make her antsy itchy feeling go away.
Morales paused for a half minute, breathing audibly, as if he weren’t sure whether or not she could be trusted with that information, which made her want to go to his house and open a fucking window on him. It felt like sexist bullshit. It wasn’t, or not exclusively. It was “I’m a low status vampire and I can’t handle it, so I’ll be rude to humans to make myself feel better” bullshit, with a little of the “I’m angry at Fain but I’m afraid of him, so I’ll be disrespectful to his ex-girlfriend instead” bullshit thrown in for good measure. Kit had chatted with Siang about it, and Siang had said that Morales was having a rough time, and asked her to be nice to him. When Kit talked to Siang about Morales, she felt like she was listening to a mother make excuses for her disruptive retarded son, except that she’d met retarded kids, and some of those retarded kids could be quite sweet and thoughtful.
“I can’t tell you everything.”
“Can’t? As in, you can’t trust me with the information, or can’t, as in you don’t know?”
“A little of both. It’s just a hunch, at this point.”
Kit rolled her eyes and put the key in the ignition. “You want me to waste my afternoon on a hunch?”
“Sometimes investigations take a lot of work that seems to be pointless, but it really matters. You never know what’s going to pan out to be the right lead.”
“I think I’m on the right lead,” she said.
“You found Mike Brown?”
“No,” Kit said. “Paisey Cypress. I’ve talked to some of her friends. I think they’re—” How could she explain it to Morales? He wouldn’t believe in faeries, or enchantments. How could she explain her theory? “I think she was, I mean, I was investigating her, and I was sure that she was the reason Rosenkranz got murdered and not the reverse.”
Morales made a disbelieving kind of grunt. “What sort of proof do you have?”
But Kit couldn’t remember. She thought for sure she’d had something, but now she couldn’t remember at all. What was it? Something about Vax, and a very thin knife. Not that Vax had done it, but he was connected somehow, and…what was it? It had all disappeared on her.
“Fine,” she said. “Give me the first address. But you have to explain your theory to me.”
He gave her the first address, and she typed it in on her GPS, which said it was only a few minutes away. Kit pulled into traffic.
“Jim Brown and Mike Brown are co-owners of an LLC that owns some commercial properties,” Morales said. “Those are the addresses I want you to check out.”
“What am I looking for?” The GPS told Kit to turn left, but she turned right so she could avoid the traffic going downtown.
“I don’t know yet. Just take some pictures, note anything out of the ordinary.”
“That’s not much to go on, Morales. How do I know what’s ordinary or not? What criminal thing do you think that the Brown brothers have been doing here? Drug dealings? Prostitution ring? Satanic cult?” The GPS was telling her to make a U turn, when possible, but she ignored it. She knew where she was going.
“How is that criminal?”
“The money doesn’t track right. They’re swindling investors. I’ve been watching one of the properties, and I’ve seen him show it to several different people.”
“Maybe some of them said no.”
“I don’t think so. I think that they’ve got more money invested in the properties than the properties are worth, and that they’re planning on skipping town. My theory is that Rosenkranz found out about it.”
“I thought they broke up a couple of weeks before she died? And what makes you think she even knew? If my boyfriend nattered on and on about his work all the time, I’d dump him for being too boring.”
“We don’t know why they broke up.” Morales said. “I think that Rosenkranz found out that he was involved in this white collar crime, and she—”
“She told them to stop, or she told them to cut her in on it?” Kit asked. “What sort of a person was she?”
“I don’t know.”
“That would be a good thing to find out,” Kit said. He didn’t know anything about Rosenkranz’s personality? What was wrong with him? Wasn’t that his half of the investigation? “Okay, fine. Let’s say Jim did it. He didn’t like what she told him, and he hired someone to kill her. How easy is that to do?”
“What, decapitate someone? Difficult to do cleanly.”
“I mean, how easy is it to hire someone to kill someone for you? Seems like if there were anyone in town who were both able to kill someone with one blow, and were willing to hire himself or herself out as an assassin, that should be the kind of information that Guild members should have access to.” She parked the car and got out.
“You mean you think it’s a vampire.”
“Isn’t that what you thought? That’s the obvious—” She had one foot on the step of a porch of a house she knew.
She was in Ipswich, in an old, respectable neighborhood full of Victorian houses on large lots. This wasn’t the address she’d been going to. This house had no address at all. The mailman didn’t deliver here. A low, stone path led from the sidewalk through a yard whose waist-high grasses swayed in the breeze like waves on a prairie sea. The tops of saplings peered out above the grass.
The last time she’d been to this house, she’d had a job for its owner, making a fake forest in the lower floor of the house. It had been good money when she really needed it, so she’d shrugged aside all her misgivings about the peculiarities of Yseulta. Later she found out that Yseulta was not an eccentric rich woman, but was a forest goddess of some kind, one of the Old Ones. By then it was too late.
She’d asked Holzhausen once what they were. He called them the Machten. Ulrich said that the earth fey called them “the greater cousins.” Faeries of the Realm avoided saying their names at all, as if afraid of drawing their attention. If Kit had known then what she knew now, she might not have had the courage to work for Yseulta. It was like finding out that the pet snake you had as a child was actually a deadly mamba, and that you’d escaped being bitten by pure luck.
“Are you listening?”
Kit backed down the walk towards the car, watching the house as if it were a dog that might attack her. “Sorry. Say that again.”
“I said you’d need an expert swordsman to decapitate someone. Councilman Glavin could have done it, but I can’t find any connection to Jim Brown. He doesn’t deal with humans that often.”
Kit got back in her car and drove away quickly, paying closer attention to the GPS, which resumed its warning that she had deviated from the correct path.
“That’s why I think that Mike Brown is the missing link. I’m trying to find someone who knows him. If he’s athletic enough to have been the one that decapitated Rosenkranz, he’s probably the one who did it. Motive, ability, opportunity.”
“And if he’s not?”
“Then I figure something else out. The guy’s elusive though. No one has seen him. And I don’t think he’s human. I think he’s a rogue I’ve run into before.”
“You think there’s a connection between him and the rogue at Sandpoint?”
“I think they’re exactly the same person.”
“Oh.” She didn’t say anything further because she didn’t want to antagonize him. Siang had told her how touchy Morales was about the Sandpoint incident. If he was right, and the rogue, aka “Mike Brown” was the one who had killed Rosenkranz, he might do something dumb like insist on killing the rogue himself. She hoped not. Morales was sure to fuck everything up.
“Are you at the first address yet?” Morales sounded testy, as if he’d been reading her thoughts.
“Ah, almost. Got stuck in traffic. Hang on.” Kit was actually about ten minutes away, fortunately, because she couldn’t really explain her detour. “Okay. I’m half a block away. I passed it on the way in. Looks like a strip mall. Smallish. Four stores and an anchor. Two tenants and a ‘coming soon’ sign. You want photos?”
She hung up so she could drive better. Kit took plenty of photos, and then she went back to her parking spot. Morales gave her the second address on the list and she typed it in. This one was north of the city, about fifteen minutes away from where they were. When she got back on the road, she continued her conversation with Morales.
“What if Mike Brown is a giant bruiser of a guy, with rippling arm muscles who could tear a phone book in half? What then?”
“Then he probably did it.”
“I think it takes more than strength to cut someone’s head off,” Kit said. “And how are you going to prove it either way?”
“I don’t know yet. First I want proof that they’re involved in this investment scheme. Once I have that, I’ll have some ammunition.”
“Don’t confront him with this alone,” she said. “If he killed Rosenkranz, he can kill you too.”
Morales snorted. “I can look after myself.”
“We’re dealing with a vampire murderer. Whoever he is, or for whatever reason he killed Rosenkranz and Paisey, he’s willing and able to cut someone’s head off. That’s pretty brutal.”
“He might not have done it himself. If Mike Brown is as scrawny as Jim Brown, then my second theory is that they hired someone.”
“Which brings you back to Guild members, which brings you back to motive.”
“Money is a motive.”
“Do you know any Guild members who would be willing to murder another Guild member just for some cash?”
“Depends on the Guild member,” Morales said, quietly and seriously. “Depends on the money.”
“If it is a Guild member, we’re treading in dangerous waters. If it’s someone with a lot of political clout…”
“I’ve been down this same path, Melbourne. Neither one of us have the political power to accuse one of the Council and walk away unscathed. I’ve even wondered if the reason why it’s taken me so long to find Mike Brown is that he’s got protection. I can’t seem to find anything on this guy beyond the name.”
“Maybe that’s the real reason why Holzhausen is so keen on finding the murderer,” Kit said, suddenly wondering if maybe her earlier suspicions were completely off. “Maybe he suspects that someone is killing Guild members behind his back, and he wants to know. Are you sure you don’t know anything more about Rosenkranz’s connections within the Guild?”
“I got nothing. As far as I know, the only Guild member she spoke to was Councilman Stewart, and she said she doesn’t know anything beyond what she’s already said.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you tonight and we can go over the photos. And you can show me what you have in regards to Jim Brown’s investment scheme.”
As she was hanging up, some of the papers that were on the passenger side seat fell on the floorboard of the passenger side. Kit she swore under her breath and pulled the car over. She got out and walked around to the other side so she could get them organized again. She knelt by the open door, sorting through the papers and making sure they weren’t stained by iced chai or mud from the floorboard. She felt the strange craving grow again, pulling at her, distracting her, making her want to run, or fight, or sleep, or do something.
And when she stood up, she turned around and realized where she was.
The house in Ipswich. Yseulta’s house.
She closed the car door behind her, staring up at the house. The prairie-like lawn rippled in the breeze, and Kit realized that it wasn’t just grass she was looking at, but a hundred tiny saplings hidden within the prairie, each no taller than her thighs, waiting to become a forest. She walked across the lawn, feeling the earth sink beneath her shoes, sensing the insects and small creatures rustling away from her step. This time she didn’t stop when she got to the porch. A little voice inside was screaming “Danger! Danger!” but she ignored it, trying to walk softly to keep her shoes from echoing hollowly when she walked on the porch and put her hand on the doorknob.
She turned it slowly, as if she were sneaking in after a night out and her mom were waiting in the kitchen for her. The door swept aside an arc of leafless floor as it opened in.
She stood in a forest of birch trees.
The lower floor of the house had been gutted, and Kit herself had sawed, trimmed, shimmed, and fastened the birch trunks from floor to ceiling. She’d attached branches to the trunks, grafting dead wood to dead wood and disguising the joints with an artisan’s touch. She’d crafted silk ferns and shrubs for undergrowth, screwing them to the hardwood floor. It was more like making a movie set than anything else, she thought, except that movie sets don’t come to life. Movie sets, she presumed, did not have the rich unmistakably loamy smell of a living forest. Fake trees aren’t supposed to lose their leaves and then grow new ones. Summer-green leaves dappled the light and hid the ceiling so that the only thing reminding her that she wasn’t in a forest was the broad staircase sweeping up towards the second floor.
When she had walked out of the Realm of the Faerie, she had been descending those stairs. Walking up the stairs would surely take her back to the Realm of the Faerie, a place that she didn’t need to go. She had a life here, a job. She almost hadn’t been able to return the last time. Didn’t she remember being lost for hundreds of years in the desert, going mad, having to make cruel bargains with untrustworthy creatures just to find what she came for? She’d gotten lucky. She wouldn’t get lucky again. She knew this.
And yet the craving would not stop. This unquenchable itch pulled her up the stairs. She put her foot on the step, and ascended.